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Guide to Voluntary Repossession of a Car

What is Voluntary Repossession? How It Affects Your Credit
Kevin Brouillard
Kevin BrouillardUpdated November 15, 2022
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
Having trouble paying your auto loan every month? You’re not alone. In fact, around 1 in 12 people are more than 90 days late on their car payments. With an auto loan, the vehicle often serves as the collateral to secure financing from a lender. If you stop making payments, a lender may have the right to repossess and sell the vehicle to help recoup what is owed on the loan. When you’re behind on payments, voluntary repossession could be an option to get out from under an auto loan. To help inform your decision, this guide will explain how the process works and the potential financial impacts of voluntary car repo.

What Is Voluntary Repossession?

Voluntary repossession is the act of returning your financed vehicle to the lienholder voluntarily. The lienholder is typically a finance company or lender that holds a security interest in your vehicle as a condition of approving your car loan. You may initiate car repossession voluntarily if you’re unable to make car loan payments and want the lender to repossess and sell your vehicle. This voluntary surrender of car ownership may eliminate your car loan debt fully or partially when the lender sells the repossessed vehicle.

What Happens If You Voluntarily Repo Your Car?

Before giving up the keys, it’s important to know what happens if you voluntarily repo your car. After the vehicle is turned over and sold, the sale amount goes toward paying down the loan. While this helps reduce the loan principal, borrowers may still owe money and now face the burden of getting by without a personal vehicle. What’s more, lenders may tack on costs from the vehicle sale to the outstanding loan balance. Voluntary repossession will likely mean a significant hit to your credit score, too. At the same time, voluntary repo lets the borrower have a say in when and how the car is transferred to the lender. Depending on how far behind you are, the vehicle could be repossessed at any time. Coming forward to hash out voluntary repossession with the lender could avoid a scenario where your car is repossessed unexpectedly.

How Does Voluntary Car Repossession Work?

When a borrower is in default on their auto loan, they could be at risk of repossession. This is because the loan agreement generally gives the lender a security interest in the car, meaning they can claim the vehicle without notice if a borrower is missing monthly payments or lacking insurance. To initiate a voluntary repossession, borrowers can contact their lender to let them know they are unable to make their payments and discuss options. If voluntary car repossession is the chosen path forward, the borrower and lender work out the arrangements to exchange the vehicle. There are different types of car loans, including unsecured auto loans in which the borrower faces no risk of repossession. The difference between secured vs. unsecured auto loans is that the financed vehicle serves as collateral on the secured loan, whereas borrowers pledge no assets as collateral on an unsecured car loan.

Voluntary Repo vs Involuntary Repo

Losing a vehicle is not an ideal outcome. But there are some differences when a lender takes back a vehicle by voluntary repo vs. involuntary repo. If a borrower is unresponsive, lenders may resort to involuntary repossession. This can involve hiring a third-party repossession agent to seize the vehicle. GPS tracking makes it possible for agents to take the vehicle from anywhere at any time, even if it’s on your property. Lenders may also have the right to use a “kill switch” to remotely deactivate a vehicle depending on the loan agreement and state laws. In either case, involuntary repossession can create a stressful and inconvenient situation. With voluntary repossession, the lender is spared the effort and cost of acquiring the vehicle. This cooperation may help work out a deal with the lender and obtain more favorable terms when refinancing after repossession

Pros of a Voluntary Repossession

  • Gives you some control when returning your vehicle
  • You may avoid certain costs and fees
  • Avoids involuntary repossession

Cons of a Voluntary Repossession

  • You lose your car
  • It can damage your credit score
  • You may owe deficiency costs if the car has insufficient resale value

The Cost Associated With Voluntary Repossession of a Car

Voluntary repossession of cars may help alleviate the burden of monthly payments, but there are costs to be aware of, too. Here are some ways your finances could be impacted:


Once a vehicle is turned over to a lender, they can sell it to get back the remaining loan amount. Borrowers may not be off the hook yet, however, if there is a deficiency balance after the vehicle is sold. This means that the sale amount is less than what the borrower still owes on their auto loan. With a deficiency balance, the lender has the legal right to determine payment options — whether it be a lump sum or repayment plan. Lenders may also use a collection agency or take legal action to recover what’s owed. Having a deficiency balance isn’t uncommon with vehicle repossession. An analysis by Consumer Reports found that borrowers owe $3,700 more on average than what their vehicle is worth.

Late Fees

When you fall behind on car loan payments, you run the risk of accumulating late fees. Often, lenders provide a car payment grace period — typically in the 10-day range — to make a monthly payment before it’s considered late. But if you’ve passed that mark, you may have fees start to pile up. Voluntary repossession may also trigger additional fees related to early termination of a lease, towing the vehicle, and storing it before auction.


If you’re struggling with debt beyond an auto loan, filing for bankruptcy may be the best option. Keep in mind that doing so could have long-term financial consequences, such as challenges with getting a future car loan. How vehicle repossession fits in will vary based on the type of bankruptcy. With Chapter 7 bankruptcy, non-exempt assets, including vehicles, are liquidated to pay debts to creditors. Note that you must meet income requirements to qualify. Although declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy can get you out of paying any remaining balance after the vehicle sale, any cosigner on the loan is still liable for the deficiency. 

Does Voluntary Repo Affect Your Credit?

Any failure to pay a lender according to the terms of a loan agreement can hurt your credit score. Typically, lenders report auto loan default to the major credit bureaus when it is more than 30 days late. How much does a voluntary repossession affect your credit? Voluntary repo may cause your credit score to drop dozens of points if the lender reports your car loan account and delinquency history to the nationwide credit bureaus. Some consumers may see their credit scores plunge at least 100 points. Voluntary car repossession may be recorded as a voluntary surrender on your credit report, whereas involuntary seizure of the vehicle may appear as repossession. In either scenario, this will remain on your credit report for seven years, though its impact will wane after a few years if you stay on top of your debt. While there isn’t a set credit score needed to refinance auto loans, dipping below 660 will make it harder to qualify for prime loan terms. Still, borrowers with less than ideal credit can explore guaranteed auto financing.

Impact of Late Payments

Falling behind on your car loan can damage your credit score, especially if you’ve fallen into serious delinquency. As mentioned above, lenders may report missed payments to the credit bureaus if you’ve fallen 30 days past due. The impact may become more severe if you fall more than 90 days past due on your loan repayment obligations.

Impact of Collections

Falling into serious delinquency on a car loan can result in your account being placed into collections. The lender or a third-party company may attempt to collect the unpaid debt from you. Having a car loan account in collections can appear on your credit report for seven years.

Stays on Your Credit Report

As mentioned earlier, lenders may report voluntary repossessions to credit bureaus. This derogatory mark may remain on your credit report for seven years.

4 Ways to Avoid Voluntary Repossession

Voluntary repossession may not be the best choice for your finances or personal life. These alternative approaches could help avoid turning over your vehicle to creditors:

1. Refinance Your Loan

Instead of parting with your vehicle, you can try working with your lender to refinance your auto loan despite bad credit. If you’re having trouble with payments, securing a lower interest rate and extending the loan term may allow for more affordable monthly payments. This means you’ll likely end up paying more interest over the life of the loan, which is why lenders may be agreeable to refinancing before repossession. 

2. Sell The Car

Lenders can sell the car at a public auction or privately depending on state laws. This is unlikely to fetch the best price, so selling the car yourself may be worth looking into. Being able to sell your car is complicated by the fact that the lender has a lien on the vehicle since it’s collateral for the loan. You may need to pay off the loan first to get the lien cleared, which is usually challenging if you’re already behind on payments.

3. Communicate With Your Lender

Reaching out to your lender early on when you’re having difficulties with payments could make the difference in keeping your vehicle. Lenders could be willing to renegotiate your auto loan terms, especially if you let them know early on before late fees start to accumulate. 

4. Reinstate the Loan

Reinstating a car loan after repossession may be an option in certain states. If your state and contract allow, you’ll need to request a reinstatement quote from the lender that outlines your right to reinstate. This written notice should also state the amount needed to become current on the loan and the deadline for reinstatement — usually 15 days. Unless you can pay this in time, the lender can choose to move forward with selling the vehicle.

How Hard Is It to Get Another Vehicle After Voluntary Repossession?

For some borrowers, it might be difficult to get another vehicle after initiating a voluntary surrender of car ownership. As mentioned earlier, a voluntary surrender of car ownership may cause your credit score to plunge. How much does a voluntary repossession affect your credit? It could damage your creditworthiness and make it harder for you to qualify for auto loan financing. Getting another vehicle after voluntary repossession may not be feasible for consumers experiencing financial hardship. You may need all cash to buy another vehicle if you don’t qualify for auto loan financing.

Check Your Auto Loan Refinancing Rate

Voluntary vehicle repossession can have lasting financial consequences. Be sure to work with your lender and consider the alternatives available before handing over your car keys. Refinancing could be a good choice to secure a more manageable monthly payment and steer clear of repossession altogether. Lantern by SoFi can help compare auto refinancing options to find an offer that works best for your needs. Compare auto loan refinance rates without impacting your credit score.*

Frequently Asked Questions

Will a voluntary repossession hurt your credit score?
Is a voluntary repossession better than an involuntary one?
How long does a voluntary repossession stay on your credit report?
Photo credit: iStock/ridvan_celik

About the Author

Kevin Brouillard

Kevin Brouillard

Kevin Brouillard is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, educator, and personal finance writer. His work has appeared in online publications such as Earth Island Journal, Jetsetter,, and Tripsavvy. Kevin covers an array of financial topics for SoFi, including loans for students and small businesses.
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